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Laura Hunt

Relationship Guide
June 2003: From "Me" to "We"
by Claire Hatch
Claire Hatch, MSW is a Licensed Social Worker and Certified Mediator who specializes in counseling couples. At The Bride’s Oasis in Kirkland, Washington, she helps engaged and newlywed couples learn to make love last and enjoy this special time. She is also responsible for the reflections part of our Calendar.

Claire will be happy to answer your relationship questions in this column. Please send them to or call her at 425.823.2273.
Meet her in person and sign up for her class: Stop Arguments before they start in Northgate or Kirkland.

"My mother told me wedding planning is good practice for marriage and if that's true, then we really need practice!" said Caroline. "Dating was child's play. Now we have to agree on how to spend thousands of dollars. It feels as if Ted's mother is trying to take over, and we're so busy we actually see each other less than before we got engaged!"

Caroline's mother is right. Wedding planning gives you practice negotiating about money, plans, family, friends—everything! It also gives you a chance to practice another essential skill of marriage: putting each other first in the face of competing priorities.

That is what this major life transition called marriage means in a nutshell: You make a formal commitment that from now on your partner will come first in your life. You are making the crucial change from "Me" to "We." If you're like many brides, the engagement period is a time when you are exploring how this plays out in daily life. You probably will find that there are two main areas where you need to put your fiancé first: time and influence. You also are likely to find that this doesn't happen overnight, but is a process with some steps backward as well as forward.

First, let's take a look at time. Creating a happy marriage means giving your partner the best of your time. It's a reality of life that the parts of your life you devote time to thrive and the parts you don't waste away. It's that simple. Unfortunately, finding enough time to really nurture your relationship is far from simple in today's world.

Almost every married couple who comes into my office has a serious problem finding enough time for each other. First comes work, then kids, then household chores, and maybe aging parents. For many of them, it's hard to remember when they last spent time together not doing, planning, or solving, but just enjoying each other.

Allison, who married Jack four years ago, found herself with two toddlers, a house in need of work, 2 step-children, and a husband working well over 40 hours a week.

"Some days I ask myself, how did this happen? I married Jack because I loved being with him. We used to spend hours just talking. Now I have to scheme and plan just to get one hour of undivided attention."

Some causes of our time crunch are inescapable. But some are the result of our own choices. One of the amazing things about the world we live in today is how it overflows with choices. We can climb the corporate ladder, start a business, go to school, travel, volunteer, raise children, home school, do yoga…I think some of my clients are doing all of these at once! And some of them are planning a wedding on top of it all.

For Allison and Jack, the key was to step back and see the life they had created was the result of their own choices. Sure enough, the areas they were spending time on were thriving: Jack's career, the children, and the house. But their relationship was time-starved and it showed—in flare-ups and the loneliness and disappointment each was feeling.

As you go about your wedding planning, you would be wise to ask yourself the same questions that Allison and Jack finally did: Are we spending our precious time on what matters to us most? Or are we nourishing things that are not really that important and neglecting the things that are? It would be lovely to have those beautiful, original favors that you dreamed up, but if it's been two weeks since you and your fiancé had a date, is that really where you want to put your attention?

In addition to committing time, getting married also means granting your fiancé the lion's share of influence in your life. If you are accustomed to turning to your parents or friends for advice on important decisions, now is the time for you to start looking at your fiancé as your top advisor.

When you first begin, this can be uncomfortable for everyone. Alan and Teresa came to see me because of money conflicts. Alan was upset because Teresa wanted to keep their finances separate after they were married. That wasn't at all what he had envisioned. He didn't see how he could feel married if they were acting separately in such an important area of life.
It turned out that Teresa had made a commitment several years ago to put her younger brother through school. She was the first in her family to go to college and she felt obligated to help her brother and sister. She feared that if they combined their money, Alan might not support this commitment. He assured her that he did and that he wanted to make helping her family something that they did together. They took a crucial step toward creating a strong marriage when Teresa agreed that this should be their goal. For his part, Alan learned that the change would go more smoothly if he didn't rush Teresa.

Alan and Teresa's situation illustrates the point that putting each other first is a process, not a one-time decision. Your vows may happen in an instant, but the process of moving from "Me" to "We" takes some time. The important thing is for both of you to feel that you are on the path toward "We" and each is making a good faith effort in that direction.

Here's the recipe for practicing for your happy marriage now.

1. Realize that the kind of marriage you have will be the result of the choices you make. Take special care with the choices you make about time and influence.

2. Make time with your fiancé your top priority. This could mean letting go of some of those details that would make your wedding "perfect," or even extending your engagement to allow yourself enough time to plan the wedding AND have a relationship. When you feel tempted to cancel a date with your fiancé to meet with your caterer, think twice.

3. Start thinking of your fiancé as your top advisor. The next time an important decision comes up, go to him first instead of Dad. And if this upsets your parents or whomever you used to rely on, realize that this doesn't mean you are doing anything wrong. Some hurt feelings are natural as relationships shift during this major life transition.

4. Give yourselves permission to go at your own pace and take some steps forward and some steps backward. No one ever accomplished a life transition all at once. and you are not going to be the first. Make a firm commitment to move down the path toward "We," and you will be on your way to a happy marriage.

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